Why the cultural & social heritage resource matters and is needed:

‘… Perhaps surprisingly to our current-day sensitivities, Motilal’s* difficult circumstances in Victorian Britain were in no way helped by his being a Gurkha. Today the context is very different – Gurkhas are held in high esteem – and yet the lives of ex-Gurkhas in Britain are not without problems. Former Gurkhas continue to fight for equal pensions, family visas and other welfare entitlements, and continue to face occasional racial prejudice. A greater appreciation of the long history of Gurkhas living in the UK, going as far back to, and perhaps beyond, Motilal Singh, could help to address some of these issues.’

Source:  *Motilal Singh was the first, to  date, recorded Nepali-Gurkha settler in the UK.

The above from the Migration Museum website encapsulates the purpose of this UK Nepali cultural & social heritage information resource, enabled and created by the UK Nepal Friendship Society, and supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). Namely, to at last provide a comprehensive Nepali community-directed thematic narrative to share with others/the whole British nation, about who the UK Nepali and Nepali-Gurkha community is. How this community entered into British history. Its distinctive, unique identity, and its multifaceted contribution to the British nation and British history.  

The excerpt above encapsulates so well that from the earliest days to the present, the Nepali strand of British history, culture, and society, and the many UK Nepali community contributors to the latter, provide inspiration, examples, and invaluable insights through the thematic content of this transcultural learning information resource.  These insights are badly needed from the ‘man or woman on the street’ through to policy makers in Westminster and Whitehall, learning about this given BAME community’s history and its cultural and social heritage particulars and characteristics.

The observations contained in the excerpt also indicate why this information resource has been needed – the callous murder of George Floyd in plain sight on an American street has also triggered debate in the UK; not so much around aspects of police and policing, as on re-examining the presence or removal of a wide range of statues in the UK, and on the current, diversity, equality, and inclusion incompatibility with core content elements and structural approach of in particular the history (British, and World) component of the National Curriculum. 

Parallel to this many experts, elected politicians of all mainstream political persuasions, and Diverse Communities have seen the contrast between the sickening revelations to emerge from years of systemic abuse, known as the Windrush Scandal, parallel de-facto persecutions by the same system of other Diverse Communities (particular nationalities, sexual & gender minorities, etc.), and a ‘Life in the UK Test’ that many feel is disconnected, to the point of dysfunctionality from the values and needs of integration and useful contribution to socio-economic and cultural needs in a UK where, apart from those holding extreme, anti-social views, diversity is honoured and respected. 

These are the settings, the background to why the information resource – a combination of a number of thematic topics of history and sociology concerning what at time of the latter’s creation, is still largely a first generation/new community in the UK, but with a context, through the Gurkhas, that sees most of the current UK Nepali population, linked to British Army service, as regarded as ‘More British than the British’ and yet sadly mainly neglected, doubtless unintentionally, where integration support and maximisation of the huge full potential of this hard working, polite, very talented UK BAME community.   

The UKNFS with the Non-Residential Nepali Association UK (NRNA UK) and many other UK Nepali community organisations, in conjunction with local authorities, public service organisations, even major components of national government departments and agencies have seen major degrees of need where structured, comprehensive information on the socio-cultural demographics of the UK Nepali community are concerned. 

This information resource in its online website version, here, and in its book/PDF form, at last addresses needs and issues, common to both community members, and service providing organisations, agencies and entities; in this, mitigating to a considerable degree the failure of strategic decision-making level public servants in the Office of National Statistics (ONS) Census 2021 in regard to a dedicated Nepali entry (because of the unique circumstance of the vast majority of Nepali community members in the UK being or related to former British Army Gurkhas) on the Census. 

The purposes of the latter are of the most important and practical information need, kinds.  When we know that many, especially the elderly, newer members of the UK Nepali community have very limited English skills, the hard copy, paper form is much more the preferred means of providing information; a fact that has been made clear to the ONS. 

When the UKNFS completed a UK Nepali community public services advice access project a few years ago, we found that with a very small number of exceptions, public service organisations, local authorities, even some councils for community and voluntary service often lacked any or had minimal Nepali community need-to-know profile information.  When asked a set of questions about their knowledge of the community, it was very common for leads and senior officers to reply (that is those that took the time to reply: it was in itself a significant finding where despite follow ups, a number chose not to respond because of indifference or disinterest). 

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) in fact on the second approach replied, apologised for not contacting back initially and praised the initiative as badly-needed for their department (that covers benefits, pensions, job seeking) that wanted to have a much better knowledge of the community, that knew very little about. In fact, the national level DWP asked us if it would be allowed if they could distribute the project questionnaire beyond the five designated geographical location – we subsequently found a number of other DWP county and city areas contacting us. 

The overall reception was, so to speak, ‘we don’t really know about this community, but want to, to help us outreach to community members.’  

This request encapsulated so well the actual purpose of the Census, indeed of any census / data gathering exercise or survey: to gather crucially important need-to-know information to ensure in particular public service organisations and local authorities and government departments and agencies have the knowledge to provide effect, appropriate services to residents, taxpayers, voters in timely ways and in places of need for all sections of society. 

And, also that all members of the latter feel ‘counted’ and listened too, and that where appropriate their Diversity and/or membership of Protected Characteristics (technical term under the Equality Act 2010 for nine different minority and other population groups with particular characteristics and often related support needs) is noted and respected.

Without such information, from a services’ planning and provision perspective, communities such as the Nepali-Gurkha, may as well not exist at all; a situation leading to multiple, often very harmful, disruptive, and in some circumstances personally calamitous consequences to individuals, families, and given locality communities.  And most of all inimical results where integration, culture sharing, and community cohesion are concerned.

Moreover, as all know, the more knowledge one has, the more is ignorance with all its attendant evils and ills, pushed back to the point of eventually evaporating: the less knowledge, the greater those ills and evils.  Concluding on this education point, the information resource serves overarching inclusion, anti-racism and anti-racial & cultural prejudice and discrimination purposes, especially through its transcultural / cross-cultural learning nature. 

Coming full circle from the perceptive observation at the head of this page, on so much changing, and yet so much still required to change, we are delighted to include here reference to the fact of this information resource making history in regard to transcultural learning, resulting in a joint educational initiative with The Royal British Legion (TRBL), and with England FA supporting a parallel anti-racism in football, educational project. 

The information resource is timely too, concerning the latter topic, coinciding with Covid 19 Anti-Asian / Anti-Nepali-Gurkha prejudice derived incidents and hate crimes in not a few Nepali community locations across the UK in 2020. 

We hope that you will enjoy and, where relevant benefit from all of the information provided in the resource itself, which includes often little-known, interesting, as well important information.  This including especially, an albeit brief but much needed overview of key elements of the exceptional story of the Gurkhas both within and outside of the British Army (with highlights on four different components of the Brigade of Gurkhas) from origins in Nepal, to special context of connection with the British Royal Family. 

Most importantly, essential details are provided in this section of the website in regard to Audiences, How to Use, and especially the Background to the information resource: information pages of this section of the website/resource., that will enable all students and readers of the resource to gain the maximum benefit form the latter’s content, and enjoy a precious window on an exceptional community, people, and subject.  

I wish to conclude with a very big thank you to all who have contributed content, including in many cases images to the information resource/book, and to the many Nepali organisations and experts, and non-Nepali organisations and friends of the UK Nepali community who have provided invaluable insights as well as content and images. 

I also wish to thank the illustrious and deeply respected national, public, community leads and others who have kindly provided their formal words of Best Wishes (‘Subhakamana’) in regard to the book, including the Prime Minister of Nepal, the Minister of Culture, Tourism, and Aviation of the Government of Nepal, the Ambassador of Nepal to the United Kingdom, also official patron of the UK Nepal Friendship Society. 

Alan Mercel-Sanca

CEO, Director, UK Nepal Friendship Society

September 2021

Comments are closed.